IT IS not often that one has the opportunity to work in a location that continues to surprise, excite and amaze not just tens of people on a daily basis, but tens of thousands of visitors on an annual basis. Bicester Heritage is the location in question and is based at the best-preserved WW2 RAF Bomber Station in the country; just a stone’s throw from our historic garrison town’s centre.

Many Bicester residents will know the former RAF Bicester site for the part it played in the Second World War, as a Bomber Training Station where young servicemen were taught to fly.

Others will probably remember it for the fact that the red-brick ‘Technical Site’ lay derelict for the best part of forty years, with only a handful of the historic buildings seeing sporadic use.

Added to the English Heritage ‘At Risk Register’ in 2008 and designated the most ‘at risk’ of all Defence Estates in the country, the future of the fifty buildings and flying field seemed bleak for decades.

However, four years in to Bicester Heritage’s tenure, the site is reborn as the UK’s first centre of excellence dedicated to historic motoring enterprise. 80% of the buildings have been delicately restored to a considered business plan, which has led Historic England to hold the unique location as a ‘national exemplar of constructive conservation’.

The collection of specialist businesses, based in the freshly restored 1920s and ‘30s buildings, operate as an ecosystem, which collectively supports classic car owners, generates skilled employment opportunities, drives apprenticeships and holds nationally known events.

The aim being to capture, nurture and transfer the skills and training required to maintain historic vehicles for generations to come, thus future proofing the historic motoring industry.

Aviation activity at Bicester predates the construction of the site, with the first recorded flight of a Bristol Boxkite from the fields here in 1911. By 1916 the Royal Flying Corps had established themselves on site with wooden hangars positioned along the Western edge of the airfield, adjacent to the Buckingham Road.

In April 1918 the RFC became the RAF and the site’s role changed to a Training Depot before being transformed into a state-of-the-art Bomber Station in 1925.

What you see today is the result of two building campaigns, over 50 carefully designed War Department buildings and structures, 500 mature trees, an orchard and three beautiful avenues by which one can easily navigate the old RAF base.

A ‘tech hub’ one might say, or perhaps ‘Bakelite Valley’.

Whatever the terminology, there is no doubt that the former RAF Bicester, which has for the greater part of a century been such an important asset to Bicester, has been given a new lease of life. One, which we believe, will guarantee it a fantastic future that lives up to its illustrious past.

Such is the breadth; depth and volume of history to be found here, that one cannot hope to fit it in to one short column.

So, musings from The Parachute Store at Bicester Heritage will return in due course, with a greater focus on specific parts of this site of national historic importance.